The top echelon of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and even more so the leadership of the IDF, seems to have little impact and say on the government’s strategic decision making with regard to the current Palestinian rebellion.
This is evident in the fact that the cabinet has not been listening to the defense echelon’s advice to revive peace talks in order to sow hopes among the Palestinians. Such advice has been imparted in cabinet sessions and briefings with the media.
Yet, they can influence the situation by reducing violence and tension with proper tactical management of the current crisis. The great danger is that the violence will spread substantially into Gaza and the security forces will be challenged from all fronts: in the West Bank, Jerusalem, inside Israel and in the South.
The South is on the verge of an explosion, yet the worst has not yet been seen. The events over the weekend on the Gaza border passed with relative quiet, despite the fact that 10 Gazans were killed by IDF fire.
On Friday, there was a demonstration of some 3,000 Palestinians, mostly young people, in Gaza opposite of Kibbut Nahal Oz. They tried to burst through one of the gates, threw a grenade and threw fireworks. Despite the fact that the IDF has experienced similar incidents in the past, even if not to the same degree, for some reason, this time it responded hysterically. Soldiers employed the use of live fire on a large scale and killed seven Palestinians and wounded dozens more. It was an Islamic Jihad demonstration. Hamas police officers, who were present in order to preserve order and who usually prevent people from massing near the border, did not interfere this time.
The IDF feared that because of the large number of deaths, Hamas would respond with rocket fire on Israel or would enable Islamic Jihad or one of the Salafi groups to do so. This didn't happen. On Friday night, after midnight, one rocket was fired that exploded in open territory, failing to cause damage or injuries. The IDF did not respond.
On Saturday, again there were protests and three Palestinians were killed after which a few rockets were fired at Israel, one of which was intercepted by Iron Dome and the rest of which fell in Gazan territory. The IAF responded to these attacks like it usually does in similar instances, attacking two weapons warehouses, killing a woman and leaving a child missing.
The force operating on the Gaza border is a paratroopers unit which is supposed to be highly skilled. They may have been acting on the orders of their commanders. If so, the IDF should carry out a thorough probe on regulations and the adherence to them.
For the IDF's senior command, there is a supreme interest in preventing a deterioration in the Palestinian situation. As of now, the violence which began on October 1, with the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin, has centered in the West Bank, Jerusalem and has "trickled" – with knife attacks – into Israel within the Green Line. This is where the attention of the Israeli public and media is turned as well. The violent incidents – the "popular outburst" (huba in Arabic) is what Palestinians are calling the current wave of violence – has not yet expanded to Gaza. Gaza, for now, is showing restraint. The incident on Friday could have brought a descent into violence including rocket attacks as revenge for the killing of the young Gazans, IAF responses and eventually to another war between Israel and Gaza.
The fact that the IDF chief of staff and senior military brass understand this fact very well raises difficult questions that need checking: Is there a certain disconnect between the position of the IDF's senior commanding staff and the forces in the field? Are the instructions of the senior military ranks, assuming that such instructions were given, being internalized and carried out to the letter by mid-ranking commanders and soldiers, whose fingers are on the triggers?
It appears that following the events of the weekend, the IDF is drawing conclusions and in two subsequent attempts by Gazan demonstrators to break through the Gaza border fence into Israel, this time there was nobody killed.
Attempts to break through the fence are nightmare scenario for the defense establishment. What will happen if thousands of Palestinians march on the fence, knock it down and continue their march into Israel? Will Israel respond with gunfire that will lead to a massacre?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , Defense Minister Moshe Yaálon and other ministers, as well as the Shin Bet and the IDF, claim that part of the wave of violence stems from incitement on Palestinian social media networks, television stations and radio stations. That's true. The broadcasts, and especially the social networks create what the Shin Bet has been calling for more than a year, "atmosphere terror attacks."
But Israel and the security forces also have a responsibility for creating this same atmosphere. A large part of the pictures and videos being spread on the Palestinian social media networks come from Israeli social media – Whatsapp groups, Facebook posts and tweets. And in some cases, graphic pictures. The pictures of the killing of Hadil Shalmon from Hebron and Ahmed Hatatbe from Bayit Furik completely disprove the IDF's claims that they were shot to death after they attacked soldiers. The pictures show that when they were shot, they were not posing a threat to the armed soldiers. Also, the picture of the terrorist from Nazareth, Asran Zidan Tawfik Abed, shows that at the time she was shot, she was not endangering the security forces. And there is the video from last Sunday of Fadi Aálon from Isawiya, who, according to the police, was shot after he stabbed a Jew. The video clip that was spread on YouTube shows that Jewish youths instructed the police officer to shoot him and the officer kept firing bullets despite the fact that Aálon lay wounded in a pool of his blood on the ground.
There are also claims, not completely baseless ones, that the soldiers and police are quick on the trigger when it comes to terrorists and Palestinian or Arab Israeli assailants, but they are very slow to fire when it comes to Jewish assailants, like there was on Friday in Dimona where a Jewish terrorist stabbed four Arabs.
The situation is difficult and any event can set off an even bigger fire. In the IDF and the Shin Bet they have been talking for a while about the need to renew diplomatic negotiations as the only effective way to block the rage, the despair and the frustration of the Palestinians with the dead end which Israeli-Palestinian relations are stuck in, for at least three years, with one war in the middle - Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 and the violent events surrounding the Temple Mount and Jerusalem last year even before they spilled over into the West Bank and Israel.
The recommendations of security figures, media analysts, the opposition and the international community have fallen on the deaf ears of the Netanyahu-Ya'alon-Bennett government. Of course they sanctify the status quo and there only wish is to "manage the conflict." The events of October 2015 prove that this is probably impossible. Despite this, it is highly doubtful that the government will change, even to a small extent, the direction in which it is heading. Netanyahu is sitting securely in the driver's seat, but it's not clear if he knows where he is driving the car.
In this situation, when the opinion of the military and intelligence echelon is not really being heard in the cabinet, the IDF can do nothing but behave as "the responsible adult" and act with extra caution with the triggers that they have their fingers on. Ariel Sharon had already said back in the days of the second intifada that "restraint is power."